There are at least three reasons of varying value going around for why folks shouldn't vote for Twins catcher Joe Mauer for American League MVP. But none of them should distract anyone from the fact that Mauer is having a season for the ages.
Mauer leads the American League in batting average (.368), on-base percentage (.434) and slugging percentage (.605). This kind of Triple Crown occurs a bit more often than the traditional Triple Crown, though it doesn't make it any less impressive. Plus, Mauer is a catcher (and not just any catcher, but one of the best defensive catchers in the game).
Let's dispense with the three biggest reasons why some try to make the case that the AL MVP should be someone other than Mauer.
1. His team isn't good enough. This is the strongest argument, as the Twins have remained barely on the fringe of the playoff race for most of the year. They are currently at 69-69, 6 1/2 games behind the Tigers in the AL Central and are obviously unlikely to catch Detroit. (They're buried in the wild-card race, 11 games behind Boston.) However, they trailed the Tigers by only 3 1/2 games at the end of August, so they were certainly a bona fide contender entering the final month. The Twins themselves obviously felt they were in contention, as the small-market team has acquired three veteran players for the September run (Jon Rauch, Ron Mahay and Carl Pavano) and is also known to have won a waiver claim on Rich Harden, though it ultimately didn't acquire Harden. (The Cubs, a big-market team with less hope than the Twins, didn't want to surrender their last hope to make the postseason).
Some would say that the MVP should come from a playoff team. After all, how valuable can a player be if his team doesn't make it to October? But while it's preferable for the MVP to come from a playoff team, exceptions can be made in cases of all-time great years. Alex Rodriguez (2003 Rangers) and Andre Dawson (1987 Cubs) won MVPs for last-place teams. Mauer has a better case than them -- at least his team was a threat. Thanks to Mauer, the Twins played meaningful games in September.
2. He missed a month. Mauer's absence cost him in his home run and RBI totals, though 26 (twice his career high) and 82 (three shy of his personal best) aren't too shabby for a catcher. Catchers historically have lower numbers anyway, since they aren't expected to play close to 162 games and spend half the games they do play squatting. Catchers such as Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella and Ivan Rodriguez have won MVPs without being league leaders in these categories. The one set of numbers that might hurt Mauer is that the Twins were doing as well without him as they are with him. They were a .500 team when he returned from his back ailment on May 1, and they have continued to be a .500 team with him. But that's no fault of his. Without Mauer, they'd be in oblivion by now.
3. His season isn't that great. This one's a crock. No catcher has ever come close to leading the league in the three main percentage categories. Before Mauer won a batting title in 2006, in fact, no American League catcher had ever won one. Now, if he keeps his lead over Ichiro, Mauer will have done it three times (he also won last year). The difference in Mauer, though, is the added power. Lots of other AL players are having terrific seasons -- most notably the great Derek Jeter and several excellent first basemen (Mark Teixeira, Miguel Cabrera, Kendry Morales and Kevin Youkilis) -- but no one is having close to this sort of season.
None of these reasons should be enough to prevent the 26-year-old Mauer from being the first catcher since Pudge to win the MVP. And neither should the fourth occasionally-cited reason, which I don't really believe exists. And that is the so-called "New York bias.''
There are those who say that there's a New York-centric element to baseball's honors, even the postseason awards. I am not sure how that's possible, as the awards are determined by a vote of two writers from every city. That's two votes from New York and two from Kansas City (not to mention Minnesota) for the AL awards. So simple mathematics will tell you that the voting is as much Kansas City-centric as it is New York-centric. It's true that many more stories are written about the New York players, but I doubt that the writers in Kansas City or other major league cities are so easily influenced by these stories. Sometimes they may be turned off by them.
If there is ever a time to be swept up in the excitement regarding Jeter's magnificent season, this may be it. He is three hits away from tying Lou Gehrig's Yankee record of 2,711 hits. Yankee Stadium has been abuzz over this for several days (and will continue to be until Jeter breaks Gehrig's mark). And, until the Yankees got back to the Stadium three games ago, Jeter wasn't exactly limping toward the record -- he was batting about .400 over the past month.
Jeter is an all-time great of the game. And he is getting better by the year, it seems. But Jeter has never won an MVP award, and that's a little odd in that he's probably the MVP over the last decade and a half. There has been growing support in New York for Jeter as MVP, and he has truly had a spectacular season, even better than his fabulous numbers (.327 average, 97 runs) would suggest. He has been superb at the plate, and what's more, he has improved his shortstop play to the point where he has been Gold Glove-caliber. He has been a dynamic two-way shortstop, maybe the best 35-year-old shortstop in baseball history.
Some might even say that Jeter deserves the MVP as a lifetime achievement award. Jeter winning an MVP in his 14th season would be an even better story than his surpassing Gehrig, and in many ways it would be nice to see him win one. Still, it's hard to look past the fact that Mauer is having one of the greatest offensive years that any catcher has ever had, for a team that's still playing games that count.
I do not have an MVP vote (in an almost DiMaggio-like streak, this makes it 23 straight years that I don't have an MVP ballot), but I do have a vote for another award. This is how each of my award ballots would look now.
1. Mauer. Incomparable year can't be ignored.
2. Teixeira. Terrific addition has finally solidified the Yankees infield while also causing the Red Sox to second-guess themselves for not going past $170 million.
3. Jeter. Superb all-around season but may suffer some from split vote with Teixeira.
4. Cabrera. Big second-half (.362 after the break) bringing him into the crowded picture.
5. Michael Young. Switch to third base has been seamless, and it hasn't affected his offense one iota, either.
6. Morales. Probably the leader among five or six Angels who may get votes (Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu, Erick Aybar, Torii Hunter and Juan Rivera are others). Statistically he's not too far behind Teixeira, the man he replaced. And he wasn't even supposed to start vs. left-handers.
7. Youkilis. He has had the best year of all of Boston's stars. He's also the most versatile.
8. Figgins. Angels' igniter learned about on-base percentage from Abreu, a master. Should be very popular in free agency.
9. Justin Verlander. Terrific comeback season for maybe baseball's most talented pitcher.
10. CC Sabathia. Second straight big second half burnishes his image as a horse.
1. Albert Pujols. No debate here.
2. Hanley Ramirez. Wonderful all-around talent wasn't exactly helped by teammate Dan Uggla loudly questioning his commitment to the team in front of reporters.
3. Troy Tulowitzki. Improved maturity and health enabled him to put together a terrific bounce-back year.
4. Andre Ethier. Incredible record of five walkoff hits for first-place team.
5. Pablo Sandoval. Leads the Giants in almost everything. Where would they be without him?
6. Chris Carpenter. Eleven straight victories helped solidify St. Louis' position.
7. Tim Lincecum. Has kept the Giants in the chase with one superb performance after another.
8. Chase Utley. Has flown under the radar in return from hip surgery.
9. Ryan Howard. Usual big power numbers (38 HRs, 116 RBIs). Looks like the beginning of a Hall of Fame career.
10. Matt Holliday. He's been superhuman since coming to St. Louis (and even better than Pujols).
Some have suggested that Zack Greinke might need to win a few more games to earn the Cy Young award. But that's just plan silly. The fact that he is barely cracking the top 10 in victories -- he's 13-8 - is unlikely to be held against him.
Unlike some with greater sabermetric leanings, I do not view victory totals as worthless, or even especially overrated. It's just another piece of the puzzle, and in this case, a small piece. Whether anyone finishes with three or four or even five more wins than Greinke, it's pretty easy to see that he has been the best pitcher in the American League so far this year. A strong case could be made that he has been the best in baseball (I would make that case), and unless something changes dramatically I'd be shocked if he didn't win the Cy Young award.
And for those holding to the view that there's a New York bias, I would follow Greinke with Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez,. I would say that Justin Verlander is fourth, with the Yankees' two candidates, CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera, at 5 and 6 now.
1. Greinke. Leads AL in quality starts (23), complete games (six), shutouts (three), ERA (2.22) and a bunch more stats. Big start (0.40 ERA in April) and big finish, too, with 15-whiff performance and one-hitter among last few outings.
2. Halladay. A case for him would have to be built on a much tougher schedule of games than Greinke, as Ken Rosenthal pointed out on MLB Network on Tuesday night.
3. Hernandez. If anyone wants him this winter, they'll have to offer the moon (and the sun, too).
1. Carpenter. By percentage he's the best at winning (16-3 record) and preventing runs (2.16 ERA). Only a handful have led these two categories and failed to win the Cy Young.
2. Lincecum. Has many more innings and whiffs than Carpenter. Plus a case could be made that a slightly worse winning percentage is mitigated by a weaker hitting team.
3. Dan Haren. Strikeout-to-walk ratio of almost exactly six to one (180 K's, 29 BBs) is eye-opening in tough field that also includes Adam Wainwright, Matt Cain and Josh Johnson.
Some have suggested that there haven't been any standout rookies this season. On the contrary, I'd say there have been plenty. Here are my choices for the best of the best at this point.
1. Rick Porcello. His 12-8 record at age 20 goes a long way toward making up for non-performances by Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis. Job well done by manager Jim Leyland, pitching coach Rick Knapp, catcher Gerald Laird and, of course, Porcello himself.
2. Elvis Andrus. Great fielding shortstop has aided the surprising success of Texas' rotation.
3. Andrew Bailey. Closers on bad teams get overlooked, but he was worthy of making the All-Star team.
1. J.A. Happ. Ranks fifth in NL in ERA (between Wainwright and Haren) in a hitters' park. Has ignored the duress of pitching in a pennant race and being mentioned in more trade rumors than anyone else.
2. Andrew McCutchen. Terrific talent gives hope to fans of perennial losers.
3. Chris Coghlan. Forty-seven hits in August helped keep Florida in the race.
• The conventional wisdom is that Jim Riggleman won't win the permanent Nationals managing job. There have been discussions behind the scenes about possible replacements, but club president Stan Kasten insisted in a recent phone interview that Riggleman has a chance. "Sure he does,'' Kasten said. My take: He has a chance, but it's probably a small one.
• Kasten disputed the notion that he may decide to move elsewhere. At first he said, " I expect to be here,'' before upgrading that slightly to, "I plan to be here," and finally to the more definitive, "Yes, I am going to be here.'' There was word that Blue Jays acting president Paul Beeston was considering naming Kasten to replace him. But most folks around baseball now believe that Beeston will stay and see through the Jays' rebuilding process.
• There hasn't been any hint of renewed negotiations between the Angels and ace pitcher John Lackey, and they'll presumably wait until the winter at this point. The Angels made an offer last winter, and it's presumed to have been roughly comparable to Derek Lowe's new deal in Atlanta ($60 million for four years).
• The Rockies continue to amaze. They have now built a five-game winning streak despite injuries within the past several days to Aaron Cook, Huston Street, Tulowitzki, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ian Stewart.
• Madison Bumgarner disappointed some scouts by throwing only between 88-91, according to AOL's Jeff Fletcher, in his much-anticipated debut. The left-hander has been compared to a Jon Lester or a young Andy Pettitte.
• The Yankees may consider employing Joba Chamberlain in a relief role in the AL playoffs, when extra off-days may not necessitate a fourth starter. Joe Girardi hasn't said who'll start Game 2 for them. But Pettitte, Joe Torre's usual Game 2 pitcher, deserves the call over A.J. Burnett.
• Pettitte said family considerations mean he won't decide whether he plans to return until he gets home to Houston this winter.
• Time to go tweet. Follow me at: http://twitter.com/SI_JonHeyman.